The Dance Enthusiast Celebrates Black Choreographers:
"Dance is my medicine ... Dance is the fist with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice. Instead of growing twisted like a gnarled tree inside myself, I am able to dance out my anger and frustration." Pearl Primus
Getting to Know The Ambient Cowboy: Ivy Baldwin
Looking Out From a Glass House
TDE: Tell me about the connection of Phillip Johnson’s Glass House to this new piece?
Ivy Baldwin: I was invited to go to Phillip Johnson’s Glass House for the annual fundraiser, Dine with Design, and I fell in love with the place. I spent a lot of time reflecting on and writing about the experience of my visit there, so when I began rehearsals for Ambient Cowboy shortly thereafter I had a rich source of inspiration for the work.
Are you inspired by art and architecture?
Every piece that I make has a different jumping off point, but I am often inspired by art. My work is colored with many thoughts and influences throughout the choreographic process.
A Dance Enthusiast Minute with Ivy Baldwin at New York Live Arts*
*the credit for costumes in the video is incorrect-the costumes are by the company.
This will be your second collaboration with the visual artist Anna Schuleit. You first worked with her on Here Rests Peggy at the Chocolate Factory. Can you tell me about this collaboration?
Anna and I met during a fellowship in Italy with the Bogliasco Foundation in 2009. In Here Rests Peggy, she created a large painting that took up the whole back space of the Chocolate Factory. This time, we wanted to work in a more collaborative and interactive way. For Ambient Cowboy, we came up with this idea of a set that is created in real-time during the performance.
Anna draws on an iPad and those drawings are projected in space while we are dancing. The drawings have different personalities to them. They appear at different times throughout the work. Some aspects are fixed, such as the timing, but what she draws is slightly different each time.
How does the interactive drawing affect your work as performers?
The performers don’t actually get to see much of the drawings. We know that drawings are happening but we’re not able to experience them the way the audience does. Often, the drawings are created as a way of anticipating or reacting to our movement. It is as if Anna is reaching into our world.
What about your other collaborators and dancers? How long have you been working with them? Do you hold auditions?
I have worked with Justin Jones (sound design) for a long time. We have collaborated on five pieces and I love working with him. He is a Minneapolis-based choreographer and sound designer. He wears many hats. Chloe Brown has designed lighting for three of my works and this is Anna’s second set design. It is important to me to work with people that I can learn from and grow with.
I have worked with Lawrence Cassella since 2003-4. He has been in all of my evening-length works. This is Eleanor Smith’s second year working with me and this is Molly Poerstel-Taylor’s, first.
We always joke about Eleanor’s “audition”. I invited her into rehearsal one day and asked her to improvise with Lawrence, then I taught her some early movement phrases from Here Rests Peggy and asked, “Are you free Monday, Wednesday and Friday? That is probably the closest thing to an audition I’ve had lately.
What is important to you, what do you value from your dancers?
I work very collaboratively with my dancers. Each dancer’s personality, sense of humor, and individuality is very inspiring to me. Whatever is going on in their life filters into the piece. I look for people who are open to sharing more than just their technical bodies and skills. I look for people who want to contribute creatively – who want to talk about imagery and ideas for the work or make movement that will be in the piece. To be the one person who generates all of the material is not as exciting or interesting as working collaboratively. I value people who are open and generous with their creativity to the work.
You studied dance as an undergraduate at North Carolina School of the Arts and got your graduate degree at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Which teachers were important to you?
At NYU I really fell in love with Tere O’Conner, but he was actually my ballet teacher, not my modern or composition teacher. When I started at NYU, my best friend from college, Heather Olson, started dancing with his company. His work greatly influenced my thinking about the possibilities within dance as an art form. I have seen every single show of his in New York.
What are you interested in investigating in your work no matter what?
I stumble because this piece feels so different to me. For many years I have been interested in what could be considered more dance-theater. My work has had a lot of theatrical elements –such as language and song. It’s been very dramatic, and sometimes very violent. This work is far more rooted in the body and in movement without any extra elements placed on it, and that is really exciting to me.
Will your fan base be shocked?
As different as it feels to me, I am sure it will be familiar to people who have seen a lot of my work. It is still me and I am in it. But, I am curious how people will react, as it is a bit quieter than my other work. It is definitely more pure dance.
How did you arrive at the title Ambient Cowboy?
It started out as something that meant nothing to me and has turned into something that really makes sense to me.
About two years ago I was in a coffee shop in my neighborhood and I met this guy who was in a band. I asked him to describe his music and he said, “It’s kind of like ambient cowboy music.” I wondered, what does “ambient cowboy” mean? I wrote the description down in my notebook and it really stuck with me. When New York Live Arts asked for marketing language about my piece, I had a few days to write a paragraph and come up with a title. I had no idea what I wanted to do yet, but I loved the idea of using “ambient cowboy” as a title.
After my visit to the Glass House, that title actually started to make a lot of sense and it informed where I went with the piece,which I don’t think has ever happened before. I don’t usually come up with the title first!
What is your history with New York Live Arts?
I have been showing work at Dance Theater Workshop, now New York Live Arts, since 2000. I was in Fresh Tracks not long after I graduated from NYU and have been showing my work here every few years. I have performed in two Fresh Tracks; a split show with Kate Weare; and I had my first full-length evening show in 2009 titled Bear Crown. This is kind of my home. It is a great organization and a beautiful space.
Other than choreographing and creating what do you enjoy?
Nothing is as rewarding as being in the studio with my dancers. I also enjoy teaching and choreographing on university students. I was part of New York Live Arts’ Barnard Project last fall and some of the Ambient Cowboy material was workshopped there.
What are you going to do after this season?
After this I am going to get some sleep! I will also cook and I am excited to get back to reading some novels, writing and traveling. I love participating in traveling residencies and fellowships if you can get your hands on them. Traveling is extremely inspiring. I also love seeing other art and films. You have to rebuild your self after taking everything out for a piece of choreography. I am really excited to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit when this show is over.
What are you cooking?
There are a few things from my trips to Italy for the Bogliasco Foundation fellowship that I wouldn’t mind trying to re-create here.